Indianapolis Weekend Preview: Red-hot Stewart readies for final race at hometown track

Tony Stewart (Getty Images)
Tony Stewart (Getty Images)
Tony Stewart (Getty Images)

Not long ago, people were saying that Tony Stewart’s days of dominance were at an end.

The assessment proved fair considering the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion had only notched three top-five finishes in the last two years.

How quickly the assessment has changed.

Stewart has produced three top-five showings in his past four starts, including a win at Sonoma and a runner-up last Sunday at New Hampshire. The Columbus, Indiana, resident will try to extend his streak in Sunday’s Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) – his last race at his hometown track.

“I’m not going to downplay it because it’s one of the most important weekends of the year for me,” Stewart said. “Being at home and racing in front of friends and family for the last time there. It’ll be an emotional weekend, for sure, but I’ve got a plan on how I’m going to approach the weekend, and I’m just going to stick to that plan and go about our work.”

In 17 starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,  Stewart claims two wins, seven top fives, 11 tops 10s and 227 laps led. He also owns the second-best average finish (9.6) and the third-highest average running position (11.6). He has finished outside the top 12 a mere four times at the 2.5-mile track.

“Man, that front straightaway, especially where the start-finish line is, if you are leading that race and you come off turn four, that’s a long way to the checkered flag,” Stewart said. “If a guy isn’t right behind you, you have a lot of time to savor that moment driving underneath the double checkered flags and the yard of bricks. Man, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”

If Stewart kisses the bricks at Indy once more this weekend, it would be after recording his 50th win – a milestone that would tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 11th on the all-time list. Every eligible driver with as many victories as the No. 14 Chevrolet driver is immortalized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

What better place to capture his 50th win than the state and track that he loves.

“It’s a big deal to us to win here (at Indianapolis),” Stewart said. “This is an event that I definitely circle on the schedule and emotionally have a lot invested in it. To us, it’s definitely not just another stop that’s on the calendar and on the schedule. You don’t just pull in and say, ‘we’re going to go in, try to win the race and then pull out of here.’ When you’re here, you’re amped up because you’re at Indianapolis.”

Jones hopes to sustain strong summer run with ‘pretty special’ win at Indianapolis

Erik Jones has made a seamless transition from NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver to full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series competitor this season.

After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2015, Jones leads the NASCAR XFINITY Series with two wins and 10 top fives. Although he sits fourth in the points standings – 54 markers behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez for first – he ranks first on the Chase Grid due to his two victories.

Erik Jones. (Getty Images)
Erik Jones. (Getty Images)

Jones hopes to add a third win in Saturday’s Lily Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) – the final event of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash, consisting of two 20-lap Heats and a 60-lap Main. He placed 34th at the 2.5-mile track last year, but heads into the race on a hot summer stretch constructed of four top-four finishes in his last six starts, including two runner-ups.

Both of Jones’ wins this season have come in Dash 4 Cash races. The Dash 4 Cash bonus is only open to XFINITY Series regulars. The top-two full-time XFINITY Series drivers from each Heat become eligible for the Dash 4 Cash in the Main. The top eligible finisher after the Main takes home a $100,000 bonus.

“I’m looking forward to Indy for sure,” Jones said. “Indy is such a cool place for us and Indy is such a unique track to begin with, but the Dash 4 Cash is an added bonus for sure. Looking forward to getting back to the Heat race format and we’ve had a lot of success in that format, so hopefully we can go and get a win this weekend at Indy which would be pretty special.”

One of the key aspects Jones likes about the Dash 4 Cash is that the Heats help teams set their cars up for the Main, which creates better and closer racing.

“Indy is definitely unique compared to the other (Dash 4 Cash races) – we had 50 laps at Bristol and we had 50 laps at Dover as well,” he said. “[Twenty] laps at Indy is a long time still, longer than you think, but it’s still a short heat race, but we’ll be able to learn something for sure. That’s a long enough run at Indy to really feel out your car some and make some adjustments. We’ll go into it with the same mentality that we did the last three and work on our stuff and get it better and get it the best we can. I think every one of the ‘Dash 4 Cash’ races we’ve learned quite a bit about our car in the heat race and we’ve been able to make a fair amount of adjustments before the Main to get it where it needs to be.”

Race Weekend Preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard

Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)

What To Watch For: Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon returns to competition in the No. 88 as a substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will sit out the next two races as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. … Kyle Busch goes for his second straight Brickyard victory. … Jimmie Johnson attempts to tie Jeff Gordon for the track record by capturing a fifth victory at the Brickyard. … Only five berths remain with seven races left until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Currently winless drivers Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman have previously visited Victory Lane at Indianapolis.


Race: Lilly Diabetes 250

Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, July 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: Heat 1 (20 Laps, 50 Miles), Heat 2 (20 Laps, 50 Miles) Main (60 Laps, 150 Miles)

What To Watch For: Ty Dillon can capture a Chase spot by winning the Dash 4 Cash. Two program victories get a driver into the Chase. Dillon clinched the Dash 4 Cash in April at Richmond. He won at Indianapolis in 2014. … Daniel Suárez attempts to extend his 15-point lead in the series standings over Elliott Sadler. … Brennan Poole goes for his fourth top-10 finish in five races. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Matt DiBenedetto will all compete in Saturday’s race.

About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.